Slick and Small is the way to Haul
The above title used to be the slogan of a magazine called
Fast Fours and Rotaries, dedicated to small performance cars, usually owned by
impecunious young drivers. And we’ve all been there!
However, “slick and small” is becoming the province of all drivers these
days, as the fuel prices continue to rise ($74 per barrel as I write this, and
it will be $100 by the end of the year, says my crystal ball). The end result is
such that the automakers who will do well have some slick and smalls for sale.
The companies that will not do so well are those who are still thinking large
capacity engines, and if you put your effort behind large SUVs, you will have a
Take the current situation in the US, the world’s greatest consumer of motor
vehicles. GM experienced a 12 percent drop in sales in May, compared to May last
year. DaimlerChrysler was down 11 percent (SUVs down 14 percent) and FoMoCo down
2 percent (and their SUVs down 21 percent). Now look at Toyota and Honda. Toyota
up 17 percent (with their car sales side up 25 percent) and Honda up 16 percent
(and car sales up 21 percent). Spearheading the increased sales were the Toyota
Yaris (called a sub-compact in the US) and the Honda Fit (called Jazz in
The trend is obvious – truck (pick-ups) and SUVs down, while the small cars
are on the increase. GM are trying to say that their cars are the most
fuel-efficient, but the public are not buying that line. It is how many liters
per week that you have to buy that counts. A small (less than 1.5 liter) engine
uses less fuel than a 3 liter, no matter how fuel efficient the larger engine
The incestuous nature of the automobile industry
Incest in the automotive industry has been on for years,
right back to Detroit, and Ransom E. Olds, the first auto manufacturer there, in
Ransom E. was a bit of a character, but was building cars of his own design in
Detroit, and called them Oldsmobiles. They sold well until a fire in March 1901
destroyed 10 of the 11 models on offer, leaving only one called the “Curved
Dash Olds”, and the term “Fire Sale” was born.
Ransom wasn’t going to be held to ransom by fires, deliberate or otherwise and
ramped up production of the Curved Dash vehicle, but the orders came in so fast
he turned to others in the auto industry for help.
One of these was Henry M. Leland, who agreed to build engines for Olds. Keep the
name Leland in mind (nothing whatsoever to do with the British Leyland debacle,
I hasten to add). He will crop up again.
Now having a good supplier for his engines, Olds then ordered 2,000
transmissions from another machine shop owned by John and Horace Dodge. However,
our John and Horace also went on to build engines, transmissions and axles for
Henry Ford, who was also assembling cars in Detroit.
But back to Henry Leland. Henry improved the Olds engine, but Ransom wasn’t
impressed at the work done by his supplier. Leland, however, believed it was a
good engine and took the design to the board of Henry Ford. The directors liked
Leland’s engine and decided to produce a car with Leland’s more powerful
“Olds” motor. Leland suggested that this new car should be named after the
French explorer who founded Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. So then cars
appeared on the streets of Detroit, with a modified Oldsmobile engine up front,
but called a Cadillac!
William C. Durant was another of the big players. A millionaire in the
horse-drawn carriage business he met a chap by the name of David Dunbar Buick,
who had made a fortune in the plumbing business, who was tinkering with cars,
and like Ransom E. Olds called them after himself. Buick did not last long,
selling out in 1903 to Benjamin and Frank Briscoe, who then on-sold it to J.H.
Whiting, owner of the Flint Wagon Works. Whiting convinced Durant to drive the
Buick car, which featured a valve-in-head engine. Durant liked it and promptly
bought the company and reorganized it in 1904.
By 1908 Durant had formed General Motors, acquiring Oldsmobile and Oakland
(later Pontiac), plus some supplier firms. He already had Buick, and Chevrolet
was next. In the meantime he made Charles Nash, a young associate in the
carriage business, president of GM. Name ring a bell? What about the Nash
Metropolitan? More on Nash later.
Durant was a wheeler-dealer but some of his schemes were not profitable, and he
was asked to leave GM. However, Durant had hooked up with Louis Chevrolet. Louis
Chevrolet, who was a brilliant engineer, soon fell out with Durant and walked
away from his own car company in a Gallic temper, leaving it with Durant who
then ended up back with GM, bringing in Chevrolet!
Meanwhile, Henry Leland sold his Cadillac cars to the General
Motors conglomerate, and after serving as an executive in GM, Henry went off and
formed a company to build aero engines. This was called Lincoln Motor Company,
but in 1920 began to build cars. The Lincoln became a competitor to the
Cadillac, and eventually Henry Leland sold the Lincoln Car Company to Ford Motor
Company. So one of Detroit’s favorite sons builds two quality cars, one of
which he sells to GM and the other to Ford! With Durant back in GM, he fired
Nash, who went off on his own, took over an ailing manufacturer to build his own
cars, which he modestly named after himself. This company went on to become
Nash-Kelvinator and in 1954 merged with Hudson to form American Motors. American
Motors were in turn swallowed up by the Chrysler Corporation in 1987.
Chrysler! Yes, there’s another name in the incest stakes. Walter P. Chrysler
was in charge of the Buick nameplate at GM while Nash was president, but soon
fell out with the abrasive Durant. Walt took a job to manage the financially
troubled Willys-Overland. Chrysler revamped Willys, bringing in an engineer
called Fred Zeder, who had been with Studebaker.
Walter P. got Willys back on its wheels and was so successful at it that he was
asked to steer the Maxwell company out of trouble. Maxwell cars went back to the
early days of Ransom E. Olds, and Jonathan Maxwell was an associate of Benjamin
Briscoe, who had at one time bought and sold the Buick Company. (Your head
spinning yet? It should be!)
Crafty old Walt began building a new (Maxwell) car using an engine designed by
Studebaker’s Zeder. Several models of the Maxwell with the Zeder engine were
shipped to New York for the 1924 auto show called “Chryslers”. Later that
year, the company was reorganized into the Chrysler Corporation, selling cars
that had connections to Buick, Maxwell, and Studebaker.
It doesn’t end there. Remember the dodgy Dodge brothers? The brothers both
died in 1920, but the grieving widows felt that the name should continue. The
women asked Frederick Haynes, manager of the Dodge plant, to run the company.
Under Haynes, the Dodge Brothers Motor Car company continued to grow and
acquired Graham Truck in 1925, which became called Dodge Truck. So the brothers,
Joseph, Robert and Ray Graham worked for Dodge, but then left to build the
Graham-Paige car. Which perhaps could have been called a Graham-Dodge-Paige?
Dodge Brothers did well and in 1925 was sold to a banking conglomerate for USD
146 million. The widows had done well. But so did the bankers, who three years
later sold Dodge for USD 170 million. And who bought it? The Chrysler
corporation of course! And what happened after that? The German connection, but
that is for another day.
Last week I asked what new car sold 100,000 units in the first 100 days of
its release? It was the original Ford Mustang, and they are still great looking
cars, especially the 7 liter engined models, and even today that model has great
So to this week. The famous Monza banked autodrome was rebuilt in 1955 for a
special race. What was it? And who won it?
For the Automania FREE beer this week, be the first correct answer to email